Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray aren’t vastly different, explains Oklahoma coach

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Now we turn our attention to what could be the most interesting draft story in a generation: Who falls in love with 5-foot-9 7/8 (in his stocking feet) quarterback Kyler Murray, who now seems likely to be the first athlete ever drafted in the top 10 in two sports?

To begin to answer the question, start at ground zero. Dispel what you think you know about Murray—unless, of course, you’ve scouted him thoroughly or saw every game Oklahoma played last season. Because a sub-5-10 quarterback who runs the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds, ran the ball 140 times last fall and has quickness in Tyreek Hill’s league would naturally be a scrambling, throw-on-the-run type of player, right?

“What percentage of the time,” I asked Oklahoma coach and Murray mentor Lincoln Riley the other day, “would you guess Kyler threw from the pocket this year?”

Riley thought for a few seconds.

“Eighty-five percent?” Riley said. “Ninety, maybe.”

Think of how amazing that is—a short quarterback who runs like a greyhound, and Riley called a similar percentage of designed passes from the pocket as many NFL teams with classic dropback passers would. Think of how the game has changed from a decade ago, when a fleet and smallish quarterback would basically be an option quarterback playing the game on the edges. Not Riley. Not with Murray. His runs? Mostly designed runs to takes advantage of a player with Vick-type tools.

Riley’s guess on Murray’s pocket throwing is pretty damn close to reality. Pro Football Focus charted the number of Murray’s pass plays in 2018 that came from the pocket. The number: 89 percent. So 336 of his 377 throws for Oklahoma last year came with Murray planted where he could survey the defense and pick his target.

No wonder so many GMs and scouts and friends in the pro coaching business swear by Riley. He had Michael Vick on his hands and coached him like he was Carson Wentz. Riley got Murray ready for the next level, but that’s not why he coached Murray, and called plays for him, the way he did. Riley never got tempted to turn Murray into Lamar Jackson despite Murray’s 4.39-second time in the 40,  and Riley never had to call plays differently for Murray’s sightlines with a monstrous offensive line in front of him (6-5, 6-4, 6-5, 6-5 and 6-4 from left to right). Duke’s Daniel Jones, a fellow first-round prospect, is 6-5 and had 12 passes batted down last season. Missouri’s Drew Lock, 6-4, had eight. Murray had five.

So for the past two seasons, Riley has coached short quarterbacks into Heisman winners who became premier NFL prospects. (Baker Mayfield, at 6-foot 5/8, is 2 3/4 inches taller than Murray.) Riley said he called the same game for both players.

Phoning from Oklahoma the other day, Riley said: “Throughout all the years with both Baker and Kyler, I can’t ever remember there being a time where we said, We want to run this play, or use this scheme, or protect this way but we can’t do it because these guys are 5-10 or 6-foot instead of 6-4. It never really entered into the equation. I don’t think their pro coaches are going to think about it either.”

Riley watched the draft process last year culminate in Mayfield going number one. He watched the success Mayfield had as the dominant presence in helping the Browns from 0-16 to 7-8-1. He thinks Murray will have the same impact on his NFL team.

“I will be shocked,” Riley said, “if five players get their name called on draft day before Kyler.”

Now teams are going to have to decide whether an unfathomable idea a generation ago—drafting a sub-5-foot-10 quarterback high in the first round—is a cutting-edge idea today. Murray is not only a short quarterback. He’s slight. He’s got almost a Mookie Betts build. Russell Wilson’s less than an inch taller, but Wilson is built with a suit of armor. Murray’s built like an outfielder.

So what GM has the guts to pick Murray for his play, and his pedigree, and be confident size won’t wreck his career?

If you’re right, your team’s in the playoffs in 2020. If you’re wrong, you’re probably a road scout in 2022.

Either way, the fact that Murray is in the discussion to be a top-10 pick a year after a 6-foot quarterback went first overall and played well means the football world is changing. A lot.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation 10 years ago,” Riley told me.

“I’m happy. Kudos to pro people, to talent evaluators and coaches. I think the NFL’s evolved. I think they’re getting out of this cookie-cutter mold and opening their eyes to guys who can play. Think about how many great talents potentially were out there that never got seen because they didn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold? Just watch Kyler play. He’s played quarterback most of his life, and he’s always been one of the shorter ones, so to him, it’s just football. Size doesn’t matter.”

Mayfield started for three seasons in Norman, Murray one. Riley was Mayfield’s offensive coordinator for two years and head coach for one, then the head coach and play-caller for Murray last year. I asked Riley to compare them. The confidence, the feel for the game, the competitive gene—pretty much the same in both.

“Baker’s a lot more outwardly emotional and exuberant and more outspoken,” Riley said. “Kyler’s got a little bit more of a quiet intensity. The effect is similar. When they’re in the huddle, the other guys believe they’re going to win.”

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Peter King ranks every single NFL team heading into the summer

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Mid-May. Time to take stock of the offseason. There’s not much left for teams to do before training camp. Vets with something left (Ndamukong Suh, Muhammad Wilkerson, Jay Ajayi, maybe Chris Long) could land somewhere, but those guys aren’t going to shift the balance of power in pro football’s 100th season.

So here are my rankings of the teams with most of the chairs being taken, and the music about to stop. Instead of justifying my pick in many of the fat-graf explanations, I’ll take some space on a key point that could determine success or failure with the team.

I fully expect to be wildly incorrect, so react accordingly.

The 2018 playoff teams are marked with asterisks … The teams that finished under .500 in 2018 are marked with plus-signs.

1. *KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2018: 13-5)

Seems a little crazy with the firing of the 2017 NFL rushing champ (Kareem Hunt) six months ago and the iffy status of the NFL’s most dangerous weapon because of a child-abuse investigation (Tyreek Hill). But this is an In-Mahomes-We-Trust pick, mostly. I wonder if you could ever say that a rookie picked as low as 56—that was the draft slot of the Chiefs’ top pick, Georgia receiver-returner Mecole Hardman—would enter a season as the rookie with the most pressure to produce at a high level from opening day. With Hill facing a possible suspension to start the season, or more significant banishment, Hardman’s a huge factor for the Chiefs. I went back and watched his highlights from the 2018 national title game against Alabama, and he made a couple of prime-time plays. He took a shotgun snap at quarterback from the ‘Bama 1-yard line, play-faked to Sony Michel, and beat three defenders around the left corner for a touchdown. Then he flashed his 4.33 speed down the right sideline, beating the Alabama corner for an 80-yard TD from Jake Fromm. But is Hardman as tough and competitive as Hill? Will he strike fear into defenses? We’ll see in a tough three-week open to the KC season: at Jacksonville, at Oakland, Baltimore at home.

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2. *NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2018: 14-5)

I just kept thinking as New England, round-by-round, let tight ends go by in the draft: Well, Bill Belichick knows he needs a tight end badly, and if he doesn’t take one, it must mean he didn’t love one, or he has plans beyond the draft. One of those plans, post-Gronk, was Ben Watson, who was highly peeved to not be active for the NFC title game as a Saint, and felt he had unfinished business as a player when he retired after the season. Watson, even at 38, is a useable player familiar with Patriot ways because he played for them for six years. I’m not sure Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be much of a factor either. And we’ll see who else comes available. Could Kyle Rudolph, for instance, in Minnesota, be a June cap casualty? That would be a golden piece for New England, though I have no idea if he’d sign with the Patriots if released. Looking at the Patriots this spring, I’m not going to sit here and kill them for not taking a Jace Sternberger in the draft. I, along with the rest of the media world, learned a lesson sometime around the fifth or sixth Super Bowl that Belichick and personnel czar Nick Caserio might know what they’re doing, and they usually figure out a better-than-competent roster to play with Tom Brady by November.

Quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts. (Getty Images)

3. *INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2018: 11-7)

My first surprise, having the Colts this high. I’m relying on Justin Houston an awful lot here. The Colts haven’t had a pass-rusher have a premier season since 2013, when Robert Mathis had his last great rush season with 19.5 sacks. Houston had an impact year at 29 last fall for Kansas City (14 games, 11 sacks, including playoffs), which is why the Colts outbid others for his services on the free market in March. But he missed 5, 12, 1 and 4 games (regular and postseason) in his last four Chief seasons, so this is a gamble. If the Colts get 12 effective games out of him—and if two or three or those are in the postseason—the investment will be worth it. Big if. You can tell I’m buying Houston being able to have one more strong year for a good team. I’m probably sold mostly by the fact I saw his last game for Kansas City—the overtime classic against New England in the AFC title game—and Houston played an astounding 95 of 97 snaps that cold Sunday at Arrowhead, frequently buzzing around Tom Brady.

See where the other 29 teams fall in Peter King’s Football Morning in America

Can Raiders actually trust Josh Jacobs to be a featured RB?

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Josh Jacobs, the first-round pick of the Raiders and the first running back picked in the 2019 draft, takes a truly bizarre college résumé into his NFL career.

• Jacobs played 40 games at Alabama. He ran for 100 yards against Kentucky in his fourth college outing, and then, in his final 36 games, never ran for 100 yards in a game.

• His highest 10 rushing games as a collegian, in yards gained: 100, 98, 97, 97, 89, 83, 68, 57, 52, 51.

• His biggest workloads as a collegian, in numbers of rushes in a game: 20, 16, 15, 12, 11, 11, 10, 9, 9, 8.

• In one of 40 college games, including receptions, Jacobs touched the ball 20 times.

Not to sound an alarm bell or anything, but the Raiders want Jacobs to be a bellcow back, the kind who regularly will have 20 touches or more in a game. It’s entirely possible that he’ll be great at that role. But if he is, it’ll be the first time doing it since high school in Oklahoma. In three years at Alabama, Jacobs was part of Nick Saban’s running back-by-committee system. This is going to be a very interesting test for Jacobs starting in September.

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